Excerpt from Intercom Newsletter 2010

A Speech-Language Pathology Student’s Experience in Iqaluit

Iqaluit, the capital of the newest Canadian territory of Nunavut, is the metropolis of the North and home to over 6,500 people.

Although more than half of these people are the Inuit, the native inhabitants of this barren yet breathtaking land, the rest of the population is a wide-ranging mix of individuals—quite reminiscent of the South.

Iqaluit holds fast to traditional Inuit ways and yet reaches out to contemporary Western culture. One can see the traditional side of Iqaluit by observing Inuit families clam digging together as the tide goes out of Frobisher Bay or fishing together for Artic Char in Sylvia Grinnell Park. On the other hand, there are such places as the NorthMart (a ‘northern’ conceptualization of Wal-Mart) where many Inuit teens can be found hanging around reading magazines or zooming by on ATVs. Stay as far to the side of the road as you can!

While walking the sandy streets of Iqaluit, the beautifully designed and modern government buildings and schools stand out as obelisks above the humble and colourful bungalow homes. Children run and play. Tourists pack up their fishing and camping gear for adventure. Inuit families get ready to go out on the land. And as for me… well, I’m making my way to Timimut Ikajuqsivik (“A place to heal your body” in Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit), the welcoming health clinic situated at the base of Iqaluit near the airport.

Inside Timimut, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and cultural therapy assistants go about their daily business as I get coffee started. The lone speech-language pathologist, the brilliant and versatile Michael Chappell, greets me with a smile. Today is going to be exciting because, as the only SLP student with the only SLP in the entire territory, every day is a clinical adventure.Who do I have on my caseload today? Let’s see… Adults… Children… Inuit… Non-Inuit… What types of populations do I need to prepare for? Child language and articulation… aural rehab… voice and resonance… I need to be ready for everything! I know as I prepare materials for all my sessions that I need to be culturally sensitive. My old caterpillar puppet from Toronto just won’t cut it for my child language session today. I better slap together an “Iqaluk” (“fish”) puppet instead! I know when I greet an elder, I better make sure the intonation of my ‘Ulakut, qanuipiit?’ (“Good morning, how are you?”) is correct and that I have some tea heated and ready.

When you are working in the North, you truly need to be an SLP ‘jack-of-all-trades’. Will my day go according to plan? Maybe. Will all my clients show up for their appointments on time? Unlikely. Will the unexpected occur? Definitely! Clinical practice in the North is clearly unpredictable and has enormous breadth! Every day is an adventure. Every breath of that fresh arctic air is invigorating

Where else but in Iqaluit can bright sunshine wake you and to see you to sleep? Where else but in Iqaluit can you see children at play in shorts in the 8 degree weather of early August… at 10:00 PM with the sun shining bright!?

My experience in the North was a truly amazing one and it continues to stir my imagination. The clinical skills and flexibility I learned were second to none. It was the adventure of a lifetime.

Jacob Wagner